The horizon line of fog and hills from Tilden Park in Berkeley facing the San Francisco Bay. This is a great big image, so it is funny to see it so small, and with the city and the buildings and boats all removed, there is hardly anything to see. Just space, and a little darker space, and some fog, but would you know that it is fog? Perhaps it's just a squiggly line and a hint of bluish gray.
Whether it is a shape, a pattern, or as Emily Dickinson expressed, "a certain slant of light", we are influenced by our external environments. Just as we shape them, they in turn shape us, and it is constant cyclical dance between this inner and outer space that shapes, defines, reinforces, and expresses WHO we are as people. When I was a little girl I was drawn to rooms, drawing rooms, designing rooms, and changing these small spaces in which I lived, to be more mine. I was attempting, I think, to communicate with my environment, reinterpret it so that I could identify and visualize myself in it and then feel, somehow, alive. This change, manipulation, and invasion of space come across in long term and short term projects, in daily informal experiences, and in formal works of “art” that are shared and internalized by everyone.
Space, it is important to note, does not exist merely in our external world, in which we live, breath, and move, but also in the 2D environments, and small 3D installations artists create to mirror and reinterpret their internal and external lives. It is universal to shape, create, and share space, and yet it is so often taken for granted, this great influence that space has on our experience. When space is empty and sterile, it reflects this in our society. When it is cluttered, it reflects our clutter. However, space is also alive in its influence on our psyches. Just as we enter a cathedral and feel grand and graceful, we can enter a closet and feel somehow little and inconsequential.
Like everyone else I know, I find that I am intrigued by outer space. Perhaps that’s why, like Mungo Thomson, I have been working with these images from the Hubble space telescope (while his our giant and inverted mine are composited with my arm). However, let’s go beyond simply “outer space”, and further into how it is theoretically and symbolically being thrust into our practical spaces and intimate corners here on earth. Mungo made large murals of these inverted images. One critic might appraise them as bringing us into an alter reality. But look a step further at the less blatant forms of influence in physical space and how do they psychologically shape us? The height, the whimsical, almost spiritual grace of new spaces makes even the greatest cynic stand back and gape, and yet, there are flaws in our “flowers” of perfection. The shorter the time between our ideas and fruition and the greater not only a disengagement from understanding of our process in creating spaces (how many of us know how to build and repair our own homes for instance?) but also a detachment from the spiritual process of not only constructing but living fully within our spaces. Just as we walked in and out temporary structures, taking in quickly what it expressed and then leaving to carry on with our lives, our new homes, cities, and work places are often just temporary structures and movie sets in their lack of physical, spiritual, or psychological stratum or profundity.
Mungo Thomson explores space in his work that reminds me of my own bumbling attempts to confront, dissect and describe the world like a poet, like a Shakespearean fool or perhaps a misplaced artist. I see his art, as cerebral, conceptual pieces exploring space and its influence, as a physical character, on the visceral experiences of the people that inhabit it. There was his cricket piece, where an orchestral cricket piece was conducted probably to the great misfortune of its audience to listen, for several disturbing minutes, to its crescendos and decrescendos. There was the zen-like secluded western expanse of the roadrunner cartoons’ desert scenes, presented mute, and without the presence of either the roadrunner or the coyote and all of their manic noises. These reshapings of forms and sensory experiences place emphasis on the emerging dialectic between perceptual experience and cultural transformations. These characters, whether experienced temporarily or for eternity, our the exhibits, the spaces, and the aural/visual experiences that exist in the psychological development of us as individuals and in turn as a culture, merging together, moving as Mungo describes, “down the cultural [path]” but past the cultural and into the perceptual, and “sculptural gestalt thought”.
When I was a little girl I had a big canopy bed with Rainbow Brite draped all over it, and stuffed animals all across my room, that I would gather and place around my body when I went to bed. Often my dad would come in and tell me to put them back and I would put them back, and he would turn of the light and in the dark I would find them and return them to the bed to create a little nest of warm comfort around my head and feet. Recently while reading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetic of Space I was reminded of this ritualistic act with my stuffed animals. In the book Bachelard cites a practice by the scholar and theologian Erasmus, who was long “in finding a nook in his fine house in which he could put his little body with safety”. He ended up by confining himself to one room until he could breathe the parched air that was necessary to him.
Intimacy needs the heart of a nest. We want a nest, a dove-cote, a chrysalis. Currently, I live in a little Oakland cottage, with a garden. I commute, but at least I have a little comfy space not unlike my bed stuffed with stuffed animals around my head. What is it I am creating in this nest? How does this relate to the spaces I have been describing in their sterility, their sculptural gestalt, their impartiality or immensity or utopian faultlessness? I suppose I am seeing a gap between what breeds imagination (rather a sense of comfort like a nest) and what modern imagination breeds (these temporary, grand structures). But the nest and the outcome are both temporary. The “nest, chrysalis and garment only constitute one moment of a dwelling place”. If you are living within a nest, that nest is a temporary structure, a place for breath or for comfort, but temporary nonetheless. If you are walking in an airline terminal, living in a grand sterile space, that barely inhabited space also will exist in that form temporarily either to break like a glass house, or to become sturdier, lived in, and transformed by that living. The nest, like the creation of an exhibition space, is temporary and represents the ideal or the impression of a reality.
Bachelard said “The more concentrated the repose, the more hermetic the chrysalis, the more the being that emerges from it is a being from elsewhere, the greater is his expansion”. So we see a reflection of a person, of a daydream or body, in each work of art as we see a reflection of a person or an identity in each created architectural space. As a space is consumed, internalized, and enforced by unconscious, the identity that we are fostering in that space grows the greater in the great concentration with which we embody these small spaces. When the small inner space or microcosm is subsequently introduced to greater outer space, or macrocosm, and touches upon the entire universe, it has that much more vitality in the glimmer of a consciousness. The microcosm and macrocosm are correlated, and between them we inhabit the vivid portrait of the magically familiar self.
My friend, actually a photographer, said “I want to paint a portrait by creating this lush, rich, poetic landscape”. He wants to detail to death everything, from the intricacies of his sight. By adding up the small parts of recognition that sum up his experiences and memories, he can create a café void of features but still with character: a space in which to visualize something inexpressible in words. There is a disconnect in thought and speech, and word and image, and perhaps with these architectural spaces we can fill the void of our communication and show in the spaces that we inhabit a bit of ourselves, and show in the art that we create a bit of ourselves. This is perhaps a journey between becoming and knowing; to find our selves by spreading ourselves throughout the macrocosms and microcosms of our temporary structures.
Light is central to photography, as to the sensory and emotional experiences a person has in any given space. So, I'm going to end this whole long bumbling word-flood about space with a favorite poem by Emily Dickinson, one of the few poets who could possibly communicate in words, what so many of us fumble awkwardly to express:
There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.
Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.
None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.
When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.
This has been an excerpt for an essay that I wrote for Dialogues on Contemporary Art. These are my photographs, with the help of the ocean, personal anatomy and Hubble telescope images from Space. I strongly recommend reading more Dickenson or Bachelard, and to see work by Mungo Thomson, check out his website at mungothomson.com or check out some of the films that inspired me in understanding and writing down my ideas about space: North by Northwest by Hitchcock, Playtime by Jacques Tati, and 2001 Space Odyssey by Kubrick, to name a few.
Communication is difficult, sometimes also with oneself. What you allow yourself to remember, force yourself to push aside and forget, and what you desire or hope others know or see in you. It is hard to be sensitive, so aware of every little painful moment, and then also open to accepting awareness...Memories shape us, strengthen, burden, sometimes consume us, and it takes dramatic moments to allow them to surface and enter our conscious minds.
Well anyway, I had an accident just a little over a week ago. I knocked my car over and was sent by ambulance to the trauma center at Mission Hospital in San Francisco. It was dark and wet, and I wasn't wearing my glasses and had a couple drinks and I was unable to see the divide and giant mound of mud and concrete separating the two lanes. My little VW wan't going fast but it couldn't handle the impact on its old wheels and it just lost control. So what happened, after the chaos of the event, was I got very down about my life and myself. And I felt very out of it, from the painkillers and from the losses. But I was physically ok. I climbed out of the car after all (which I hardly remember) and shuffled around the trauma center nosing in on groaning men next door that night. My body was fine and I returned merely feeling numb and cold to my home, and a cat piss covered bed. After laundry I found an old notebook and filled its thin pages with writing and sketches. I found that instead of talking straight up about the accident, I was writing about a past relationship. I had been feeling down later that night, when I was left alone, and it brought back these memories that I could hardly manage to assimilate after all that time. They just were stewing in the back of my head(heart) for so long. The writing is mostly a description of the accident, while the sketches are more insight into the relationship. Both, I hope, connect and address a deeper issue at hand. With this notebook of art I was able to process some residual emotional baggage, and found relief and some repose after a series of unfortunate events. Here are a few more of the sketches below. (I might make a separate webpage for the set of sketches soon...)
Again Instagram has proved both annoying and titillating.
They (the people behind the app) have made websites out of every instgarammer's profile, and they don't look bad..not bad at all because...well, let us clear the air...
Instagram is "annoying" because here is an application where people pop out photos easier and faster than Andy Warhol silk screening pop art. People poke a few smart phone buttons and bam, there's a work of art, while I meticulously obsess over a photograph in camera for minutes, hours, sometimes days...but who am I kidding? It is also titillating because I also poke around and throw out a new piece of "art" in seconds. I then find myself embracing the ease and quickness of the act, and taking it up a notch: I run around and flash my cameras (real and "phoney") like the papparazzi until there are hundreds of images and a few to choose from in order to play and poke, and share them with the great intimate strangers of my social media world.
The people who complain about it are complainers. Period. They're the same people who complain when their toast it too toasted. Or the sun is too bright. They worry that the app is taking over traditional methods of photography or stealing and appropriating work from the internet, or just plain commercializing an artistic field. But let me just say this isn't Starbucks. And if it was, there are still cameras, real ones!, and we can use them too. I know this because I am friends on instagram with two of my old photography professors and a number of fine artists and they are still very much in love with the real thing.
But like anything there are the people in it who go nuts and overstylize and overprocess the hell out of the photos and they are just cartoonish responses to what they see in the world. Some instagrammers just post saved images from their smart phones, often jokey memes or political rants. Many many people post bland photos of bland food and again many post photos of themselves, their children, their homes, a settlement of flowers and trees from a nearby forrest, a lake, a sunset, a funny cat, a crooked toe, a fat lady at the bus stop, a gorgeous girl crossing the street, a musician, a blackeye, a cocktail with a sword....people post the grand and the mundane in their lives, and it is occasionally, quite hopefully, poetry in images. There are details and then there are abstractions. Each photograph says a bit of who you are as a person, and the way you see and reinterpret the world. What is it about these hidden worlds coyly unveiled that we love so much? Like any diaristic exercise, people have layers to shape and to reveal from their intimate lives, whether they are what they ate for lunch or who they love; we can partake or observe at leisure, with the comfortable detachment of a voyeur in the modern world. And you don't have to be getting your MFA in photography to mess around and create a memorable image....though it helps.
Oh, and this is mine:
I met the King, or at least his primary place of residence, or as MTV would have it, his CRIB, in 2007 just days before I left my lover, my Oregon home, and my silly cashier job to teach overseas in Asia.
The trip was the last with my now ex, who I was crazy about and who had already decided he wanted "space" and had been distancing himself for some time. In the midst of this distancing, we somehow planned out a trip to visit his family and old university in Illinois, and then roadtrip to Tennessee to see my family, including my Peepaw (aka grandfather) who was getting dementia and thought the whole time I was married to the guy. We couldn't persuade him otherwise, and in a way I was glad because I had a feeling it would be sometime if ever before a marriage would actually occur.
So we flew to Illinois, and drove around St. Louis, and then over to Memphis where we proceeded to fight, as usual, in the motel room and I almost thought we would have to cut the trip short and return to Oregon. But we didn't. We managed to not kill eachother and the next day I saw the King, or at least his twin's grave, and his old living room with the rainforest theme, and the hall of records and the menu of famous southern King favorites. I felt reluctance to share in my joy for this womanising, egocentric rock star in the company of a comparably egocentric boyfriend, however I could not resist my typical weakness for this confident, zealous personality. In the middle of all the excess and glory was a strong energy unabashed by the mediocrity of others, and even his own distorted habits. For truly there's nothing like a hound dog.
So we drove on. My ex, in the unlikely and all to heart-melting way of his, surprised me by sitting quietly for hours with my grandpa, the King of his southern household, listening to him yammer on about faith as if he was still a methodist preacher in front of a congregation. And then we left Tennessee, and my family, and I flew to Asia and we were apart, and peepaw died, and everything else happened as it always does.